Northern Michigan Schools Struggle to Find Substitutes, Paraprofessionals

As many schools are welcoming kids back, superintendents across northern Michigan are still looking to fill a number of positions.

Spec Ed Teacher Shortage Pkg 5 19 2100 00 19 08still001Not only are they looking for teachers, they’re in desperate need of substitutes and paraprofessionals.

Filling these positions has not been easy for districts in the last few years, but it’s been even more difficult during the pandemic.

West Shore ESD Superintendent Dr. Jason Jeffrey says the school has 50 paraprofessionals—which is about 25% of their staff.

“It’s just becoming really really difficult at this point in time to find qualified people,” said Dr. Jeffrey. “There are nine districts within our service area, and I believe all but one needs at least one paraprofessional, so I would say it’s pretty clear that there is a substantial need across our region.”

Shannon Miller’s son will be going into 7th grade this fall.

He has high functioning autism, and relies on on paraprofessionals for help at school, or when he needs a break.

“I need someone else to be there to make sure that he’s getting his needs met,” said Miller. “He really, really had a good connection with all of his parapros that he had, and they were really important to him.”

Miller says paraprofessionals play a huge role in her son’s life and in the lives of other students.

“They make those connections with those paraprofessionals, and they may not have a close relationship to their teacher, because this is somebody that they’re counting on being there, they’re counting on helping them, and it’s a constant,” said Miller.

But its not just paraprofessionals, Benzie Central Schools is having a hard time finding substitute teachers.

“On an average year, we usually have in the high 20s,” said Superintendent Amiee Erfourth. “Last year we were definitely under that, about half, and as I’m looking at the year coming up, we’re hovering right around 12-ish substitutes.”

Superintendent Erfourth says she’s worried about how few subs they’ll have available for the upcoming school year.

“Some buildings might have four people out at any given day, and we have five buildings, so it’s important to have a good amount of people available and ready to help,” said Superintendent Erfourth.

She says there’s a few reasons why there just aren’t enough subs

“I just know right now there’s a lot of jobs available all over, and so I think that people are taking those instead,” said Superintendent Erfourth.

Dr. Jeffrey is running into the same issue.

“There do seem to be so many jobs available,” he said. “I think that’s probably impacting everybody. You don’t have the candidate pool that you once did.”

Schools say the shortage of both paraprofessionals and substitutes has been an issue for a few years, but now, the shortage is worse due to the pandemic.

“There was concern about Covid and not being sure what that was going to look like,” said Superintendent Erfourth.

And with the ever looming threat of Covid, Benzie Central came up with the idea of “designated subs” for their schools.

“Every building was able to have a substitute teacher that worked year round every day of the year,” said Superintendent Erfourth. “Then they could fill in at a moment’s notice.”

The school has also raised their pay, and are trying to come up with other incentives.

West Shore ESD is also trying to think outside the box.

“We’re really, really trying to constantly have lines of open communication, and we’re trying to find out what kinds of things folks are looking for that makes the job more satisfying,” said Dr. Jeffrey.

But even with these adjustments, it may not be enough.

“I do think we are going to facing the struggle for a while,” said Superintendent Erfourth.

Categories: Back to School 2021, Coronavirus